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Conservative climate bummer

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Oct 4, 2023
Former Rep. Bob Inglis

Former Rep. Bob Inglis. Photo: Paul Marotta/Getty Images

Conservative climate groups were players in McCarthy world. Now they're at risk of being left out in the cold.

Why it matters: The relatively new cadre of advocacy organizations were instrumental in encouraging Republicans to drop climate denial and shaping McCarthy's 2022 midterm message.

  • Those subtle rhetorical shifts can be important over the long term, but they may now have weaker ties to party leadership.

Zoom in: Groups like ClearPath and Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions have spent millions lobbying on an "energy innovation" response to climate change in recent years.

  • Some top Republicans, including McCarthy, in turn adopted their talking points, ditching the kind of climate contrarianism that largely defined the GOP before 2018.
  • As minority leader, for instance, McCarthy tried to get his party to acknowledge climate change because he believed Republicans risked losing out on a generation of younger voters that care about the issue.
  • McCarthy also put Garret Graves in charge of an Energy, Climate and Conservation task force ahead of the midterms, a partnership that later resulted in Graves leading permitting negotiations with President Biden for the GOP.

Between the lines: "Kevin had a longer time horizon in mind and saw young conservatives coming and knew that the party needed to reposition and get relevant on climate, in great contrast to, say, Donald Trump, who has a very short time horizon in mind," said former Rep. Bob Inglis, executive director of RepublicEN.

  • The conservative rebellion in the House could put an end to some of that thinking.
  • Plus Graves, the GOP's top climate spokesperson, might play a much different role under a new leader.

What they're saying: "Speaker McCarthy was committed to growing the Republican Party by reaching young Americans with a message on energy and climate," said Danielle Butcher Franz, CEO of American Conservation Coalition Action.

  • "He was the first Republican leader to have a climate plan … and he has been a strong supporter of not only clean energy, but climate [efforts]," Sarah Hunt, president of the Rainey Center think tank, told Axios.
  • "I do not think that any of the candidates being floated now will be better than McCarthy on advancing conservative solutions to climate change," Hunt said.

Reality check: McCarthy wasn't about to endorse a carbon tax, and the spending bills Republicans developed under his leadership would cut many renewable energy and EPA programs.

The bottom line: "Denialism is a short-term strategy these days," said Alex Flint, who runs Alliance for Market Solutions, a pro-carbon tax group.

  • "However, when the deniers and those who mock the issue are in positions of power, they can delay action, which we saw with Sen. [James] Inhofe and President Trump."
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